Maggie Shayne On The Joys of Using a Pen Name + Writing The Suspense Novel

maggie shayne photoName: Maggie Shayne
Author’s Website, Facebook Page, Twitter
Hometown: Many, many places. My family were like Gypsies, always wandering.
Current Residence: Rural Cortland County NY, mountains and state forests, dairy farms and wineries.
Education: Life is my greatest educator.
Briefly: 54 novels with 5 major publishers, Rita Award, Career Achievement Awards (several), Golden Leaf Award, Readers Choice Award, Daphne du Maurier Award, NY Times Bestseller List, USA Today Bestseller List, former soap writer for “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns”.
Favorite Read: Too many to name, but most recently Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled.
Author Crush: Do I have a crush on any author? No. I’m madly in love with my fiance and life partner, Lance.
Fiction How-To Book You’d Recommend: Oh, such a great question! “SHUT UP!” He Explained It’s the best dialogue book ever written, by Writer’s Digest books. Also, Screenwriting Tricks For Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff. This book is hugely helpful for plotting page turners. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is.
Pet Peeves: I don’t think I have any. Getting rid of them as they show up is part of the process of growing spiritually, I think. So when I find a pet peeve, I realize it’s telling me something important about myself, highlighting some area I need to work on. And then I work on it.
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…A singer, a life coach, and a personal trainer because then I’d have no choice but to work out every day. [Smiles]
What You Have Lined Up Next: Thanks for asking! My romantic thriller Sleep with the Light On, was just released and given RT Book Review’s Seal of Excellence Award for October. The follow up novella Dream of Anger will be free in e on 11/1 -11/30 and then book 2, Wake to Darkness releases Thanksgiving week. In addition, Gingerbread Man a romantic suspense is burning up the charts, still on sale for 99¢ with more than a half million copies downloaded and closing in on 800 reviews at Amazon, 300 at BN, 300+ at iTunes—all avg 4.5 stars.

So, it turns out that Maggie Shayne is a pen name. How did you settle upon it?

Maggie is my real first name. Margaret. It was my mom’s name, my grandma’s name, it’s my niece’s name and my granddaughter’s name. Since I didn’t want to use the last name of my adopted father, who was abusive, or my birth father, who abandoned me, or my ex husband, I used Shayne, the last name of the hero in the first romance novel I ever wrote, one that was never published and never should be. [Smiles] We have a few “learning” books to write before we get good enough to publish.

If you had to do it over again, would you still use a pen name?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t change one single thing about my life, no matter how tiny. Even the bad stuff. Shift one thing, take one step differently, and the domino effect makes everything from then on different. I love where I am in life, so I wouldn’t change a single choice I ever made.

What do you usually do when you’re hit by writer’s block?

Good news. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only “putting your ass in the chair block.” But if you just do it, just sit down, just lift your hands and put your fingers on the keyboard, just look at the screen and begin to type anything, you realize the “block” was imaginary, because it dissolves instantly.

maggie shayne

You’re a RITA winner. Do you count that among your proudest achievements?

Career achievements, yes. It’s absolutely my most treasured book award. But my real proudest achievements are my five daughters and the life I’ve lived. Awards and prizes mean so little compared with how you make other people feel as you walk through life. I’m proudest when someone emails me to tell me that something I did for them or some advice I gave them years ago, changed their life in some positive way. I live for those moments.

I think after awhile romance authors develop a formula that works for them. Is that the case with you?

No. Every book is completely different. I do like a happy ending. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that didn’t end in an upbeat, satisfying way. I never will. I don’t want to read anything that doesn’t end that way either. But formula? No, no formula. It would be so much easier to plot if there was!

Do you think that there are some elements to suspense that are absolutely musts in order to write a successful suspense novel?

Well, suspense. [Smiles] You want the reader on the edge of her seat as often as possible. Never end a chapter at a calm moment. End them in the grip of tension so the reader can’t put the book down. Make sure the stakes are high. The more the characters have to lose, the more suspenseful the novel. And it helps if the two main characters in a romantic suspense are on opposite sides. If he gets what she wants, she loses what she wants, and vice versa.

What do you wish that every new author knew about the book publishing world?

One: There’s no author who doesn’t need an editor. Two: Don’t publish the first thing you write. If you do, then later, when you’ve really learned how to write a novel, you’ll be terribly embarrassed that the early was ever read by anyone. Three: Learn the basics, like grammar, spelling, punctuation. Buy Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and study it religiously. Take classes. People who don’t understand what point of view is, or tense, or subject/verb agreement have no business publishing books on Amazon.

Surgeons do not operate on patients on their first day of medical school. You must learn. You must study. You must practice and hone your craft and hone it and hone it. And then hire and editor and hone it some more. There really are no shortcuts.

That said, the gift of the storyteller is one with which she is born. All the other stuff, the technical stuff, can be—and must be—learned. But the burning desire to tell stories, and the creative mind to create great ones, is inherent, and handed down—I believe—through the matriarchal line. It is a sacred calling. It is a priestesshood. And so it must be treated as such. We are so so blessed to have been born storytellers. We must always remember how rare and wonderful that is.

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